Nice and Sloe

sloedmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Google “Sloe Gin Cocktails,” and you’ll receive a list of drinks with naughty names I won’t repeat. Nice and Sloe, in comparison, is the mildest innuendo to match this mild use of this unconventional, once forgotten spirit.

Sloe gin contains gin, but its singular ingredient is a wild British berry that, apparently, no one with any sense would eat. I’ve never tasted one, so I can’t say whether they are as terrible as accounts claim. But I read a British site that described them as “astringent, “bitter,” and, in a what I take as a typically understated British disdain, “generally unpleasant.”

Yet, there they are in bottle, made into gin according to a process that resembles a masonic rite. You pick ripe sloes immediately after the first frost (about now, late October to early November) and prick them with thorns from the sloe bush itself… or you can prick it with a metal fork, as long as it isn’t silver. Then you steep it for three months in regular gin in a dark place, making sure to… that’s enough. I suppose sloe gin is not the most complicated spirit (because it doesn’t have to go over the equator twice) but, like lobster, you have to wonder who thought of ingesting it first. Must be the months pickled in alcohol.

And, actually, sloe gin is sweet, sort of plummy and fairly bright, like a bitter cherry brandy with a whiff of lemon. For a time, people had to make sloe gin on their own, and the most popular sloe gin drink, a Sloe Gin Fizz, was consigned to black and white movies. Now sloe gin is in a liquor store and a double-entendre near you.

The recipe for the Nice and Sloe doesn’t star sloe gin, but there’s enough in the drink to make a difference:

5 to 8 mint leaves

1.5 ounces white rum

.75 ounces sloe gin

.75 lemon juice

.25 simple syrup

Add to an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake vigorously (to break up the mint) and double strain into a coupe. Garnish with a mint sprig.

With sloe gin in my liquor cabinet, I may get to work experimenting. Though perhaps unusual and dated, it’s an interesting taste sure to be useful, if only to produce some bad puns yourself.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

sloejmMost of us have some gustatory kryptonite. That food or drink that can make us queasy, or at least immediately adverse, at mere mention. Sloe gin seems to fall into that category for a number of folks.

The food kryptonite list varies greatly from the specific to the general. For me, it’s Chex mix. That is the odd cereal, peanuts and spice mix that people often put together at holidays. I suppose it goes back to a Christmas season when I was a graduate student. I was training to run a marathon with David and my buddy Willard. There was little to eat in the house and my appetite was unending with all the training. Next thing I knew, I had overdosed on Chex mix and to this day I can eat little more than a handful at a time.

Other people feel that way about a more general type or whole groups of food. I know folks who loved oysters until they ate that one that was too big, too raw, too slimy or simply an oyster. There are others who exclude seafood completely. It’s the smell, the look or the concept that bothers them. Maybe they are just opposed to eating things that swim but the smell alone sends them running.

The list of kryptonite beverages, specifically alcoholic, almost always traces back to overindulgence. We have heard of people who swear off beer after a night of one, or twelve, too many – to a person they seem to come back though. Tequila is commonly anathema. I suspect that it is as much about what kind and how they drank it as it is about amount. No matter how it happened though there is typically no convincing these antis to change their mind.

My wife is one of those who cringe at the thought at of sloe gin. Just like others who feel the same, it started with a poor man’s version of the sloe gin fizz. There are sloe gin liqueurs that substitute for the real thing and that probably has a lot to do with it. They are usually low priced, artificially flavored and probably have more than a few odd by products included. Add in the middling level of alcohol, low enough to enjoy more than one and high enough to rue too many, and the cheap fizz is a recipe for regret. I should note, to protect my well-being, that she was much younger and a neophyte drinker when her sloe gin aversion began.

Oddly, the key to this cocktail is not the sloe gin it’s the rum. The recipe calls for a dry rum (not sure I had ever heard of such a thing) which is probably to make it less dominant and the drink less sweet. I used a rum from Charleston which is great on its own and works well in most cocktails but in this drink it overpowered the gin. The rum added too much sweet especially combined with the simple syrup so I should have tried a version without the syrup. What I could taste of the sloe gin was interesting. I purposely sought out an English version for authenticity and I’m looking forward to another drink where it is featured. Maybe, just maybe, I can talk my wife into a kryptonite fizz.

Jonathan’s take: There’s no aversion to this drink, I just think I need to do a better job making it.

David’s take: The sloe gin, lemon, and mint play nicely with the rum—an odd collection, maybe, but an amiable party.

Next Time (Proposed By Jonathan):

I’m not sure if there is a saturation of microbreweries, folks who are more interested in craft spirits, or both, but there is a proliferation of micro-distilleries. I have used local (defined in this case as North Carolina and adjoining states) liquors in many of the cocktails we have made. A large part of that is to avoid the huge conglomerates that dominate the spirit market, but it is also to support alcohol artisans. The proposal is to try a cocktail, or two, made with local spirits. A short amount of research has already shown that most makers offer a number of cocktail ideas for that very purpose.

 

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Sidecar

sidecar-jmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

It is a little hard to believe that there are any classics left for us to try. When you study cocktails—an exaggeration of the idea of “study” if ever there was one—it is hard to believe there are so many cocktails available to try in general.

The Sidecar has the typical disputed history, but what is not in dispute is its origin. This is a drink that derives from the brandy crusta. David Wondrich (yes that guy again) notes the crusta as the genesis of citrus in a cocktail. A New Orleans bartender, Joseph Santini, created the brandy crusta at the New Orleans City Exchange bar in the 1850’s. The recipes for these early drinks are complicated by ingredients (gum syrup), garnishes (half a lemon peel) and glassware (a wine glass that isn’t what most would call a wine glass) that need interpretation. Here’s the gist of the crusta after Wondrich finished interpreting:

2 ounces brandy,

1/2 teaspoon curaçao,

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 dashes bitters.

Take a wine glass, coat the rim in fine sugar, add the peel of half a lemon, mix all the ingredients in a tumbler with ice then strain into the glass.

It is easy enough to see how the Sidecar evolved from the crusta, but the question remains: who did it and where did the name come from? One story traces the drink to the now familiar, at least to discerning readers, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Sometime after World War I an American serviceman, who very responsibly caught a ride to the bar in a motorcycle sidecar, asked for something fancier than straight spirit and was served a mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice in equal parts. The Ritz Bar is also given as a Paris birthplace of the drink but the back story is the same.

Those stories are countered by a couple of others. There is the version where the drink was born in Buck’s Club in London. In the English version the proportions may be different, but the motorbike accessory is still cited for the name. Another idea is that the evolution of the crusta occurred in the city where it originated—New Orleans. My favorite part of that one is the different explanation for the cocktail’s name. When a bartender mixes too much of a drink, the extra is poured into a shot glass, and it’s is referred to as a sidecar. Although I overdo the mixers all the time—that’s why I typically use a glass that can handle the extra—I am not sure I have seen a professional bartender make that mistake. I like the term though.

The final issue for this cocktail are proportions. As noted earlier, if you order the Sidecar in Paris you will get equal amounts of all three ingredients. Others suggest that the best mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice is 2:1:1 or 8:2:1. The latter is too complicated, and I like the lemon juice to be more dominant so I chose the former. Mix everything with ice in a shaker, shake and strain into a coupe that has been rimmed with sugar. Garnish with an orange peel. As my picture shows, I skipped the sugar and used a wedge of orange. I figure, if they can’t settle on a story, why should I follow the recipe exactly? That is why since Crustas were also made with other spirits, I made a Sidecar version with bourbon substituted for cognac. The whiskey was very dominant so I would suggest sticking with the classic version of the classic.

Here’s David’s Review:

sidecarThis cocktail is one of the few I’d tried when Jonathan and I started this blog, which, since I’d had about ten cocktails before this adventure, is saying a great deal. I was out with a friend who ordered a Sidecar and I took it as an omen. “I’ll have a Sidecar for his Sidecar,” I thought.

That was a long time ago, but I remember sitting with my friend at the bar watching the bartender agog at how unfussy the drink seemed, hardly the elaborate production of a libation I expected at the time.

Now I know, the only complicated aspect of most classic cocktails are their origin stories. Everyone, it seems, wants to get credit for making something so simple that anyone goofing around with basic ingredients might stumble upon it. The classics of the classics—like Old-Fashions and Manhattans and Martinis—morph into endlessly accessorized versions with the inventions and additions of ambitious mixologists. I’d be the last person to scorn their efforts because this blog is a tribute to some pretty clever combinations of spirits and mixers, but sometimes you just can’t improve on the essentials.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying the Sidecar is an essential. Like Jonathan, I followed Wondrich’s perambulations and experimented with proportions and ingredients—I’m with him on the bourbon, but, as I like a sweet counterbalance to lemon, I upped the curaçao a little—but really the recipe Jonathan offered is as sound as granite. And I liked this libation.

Would I make the Sidecar my signature drink? No. The conversation about “Which cocktail would you choose if you could only order one for the rest of your life?” continues. However, I am in awe of classic cocktails like the Sidecar because I can actually remember how to make them even months after my last one and also because they are reliably delicious.

Jonathan’s Take: In the beginning there were just spirits, then there were cocktails and after that there’s a sidecar load of variations.

David’s Take: The older I get, the bigger the appeal of the classics… but, then again, maybe I just want to become one.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Since Jonathan proposed a classic we’d somehow missed, and I’m going to propose a somehow missed ingredient—Sloe Gin. As always, introducing a new bottle to our liquor cabinets has to come with an apology, but I’m tired of walking past the Sloe Gin and thinking, “What IS that stuff anyway?” My research tells me sloes are wild and apparently beautiful British berries that have  astringent taste no one would like if it weren’t pickled in alcohol. I looked a number of recipes using it but finally settled on the naughtily-named Nice and Sloe (because I’m pretty sure Jonathan and I already own or can easily obtain the other ingredients).